A baby boy from Virginia almost lost his life after being stricken with a rare disease that affects the breathing muscles.
When 11-week-old Benjamin Shell was rushed to Fairfax Hospital on June 27, doctors immediately suspected the child had botulism. Baby Benjamin was too weak to open his eyes so they began treating him with a medication called BabyBIG, a purified antibody, NBC 4 reported.
"I was honestly thinking, How am I going to tell my two older sons that their brother is not coming home?" Antonette Shell, the boy’s mother, told NBC 4.
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Botulism is a rare illness that affects about 100 babies nationwide per year. Shell said she became concerned two weeks ago after her baby stopped nursing and when he became constipated.
She took the baby to the local hospital, but doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him.
"They were dumbfounded," said Shell. "They were wondering how could such a healthy baby boy ... just get sick so fast and so easily."
It wasn’t until Shell arrived at Fairfax Hospital that doctors were able to diagnose baby Benjamin with botulism. Inova Pediatric Intensivist Dr. Michael Vish said he’s only treated three cases of the rare illness in his 12-year career.
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"Botulism toxin is actually the most potent toxin known to man," Dr. Vish explained. "That toxin makes somebody weak, and it affects their (baby's) breathing muscles so children aren't able to breathe and that can be severe and cause low oxygen levels and even death."
Shell recalled one frightening moment where she thought she would lose her son.
"It got bad ... At one point they had to resuscitate him," Shell explained.
While Shell and her husband took turns at Benjamin’s bedside, friends and family showed their support through social media. A Facebook page asking people to pray for Benjamin received more than 1,700 responses. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help with Benjamin’s medical costs and has raised more than $8,500 already. The medication alone costs $45,000.
Shell’s aunt even organized a fundraiser at a local vineyard that she co-owns.
"It's been a real eye-opener to see just how much the community has come together for this,” said Tracey Newcome. “It's heartwarming."
Shell hopes that her story will serve as a warning to other parents.
"I didn't know my infant could get this," Shell said. "They say it could have come from many things. They think a spore in the air."
Dr. Vish said that while botulism is impossible to avoid, good hand-washing practices can help prevent from catching the illness. Parents are also advised to refrain from giving children under the age of 1 honey, as it is known to carry botulism spores.
Poor nursing and constipation are symptoms parents should be looking out for.
"It's weakness we see, a poor cry, a soft cry, a baby seeming floppy," explained Dr. Vish. "Those are big warning signs for any child no matter what that they have to seek medical attention."
As for Benjamin, Shell is happy to report that he’s getting stronger everyday and just recently has his feeding tube removed.
"He's able to move his head," Shell said. "He was so happy last night he just kept moving his head back and forth, like, I can finally move!”